Riding motorcycles is inherently dangerous. There is no question that your daily commute is risky, regardless of whether you ride in a two-wheeler or train. Life is a game of numbers, and in theory, if you play a lottery enough times, you will win for sure. In the same goes for bad luck. Given certain road conditions and a little bit of misfortune, even the best rider on twos could be involved in a grizzly accident, possibly fatal.
The point is not to rain on your parade. Even if you lie in bed with your helmet on and promise to never touch your bike again, we will all go out one way or another. But with informed choices and vigilance, we can reduce the chances that it will all go south. So again, we ask – what is the safest time to ride a motorcycle?
It’s safest to ride a motorcycle from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. on Monday to Friday and between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The most dangerous time of the day to ride is between 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. The probability of being in a crash double during this period, which also claims 44.5% of motorcycling accident casualties. On a broader view, the period between 3 p.m. and 9 p.m. is the least safe time of the day to take a ride, any day of the week.
But what exactly occasions this deadly period? Read on to find out!
Time Patterns on Motorcycle Accidents
A Honda CRF250L lies mostly in one piece in the Broadway-Manchester neighborhood of South Los Angeles. We can’t say the same for the rider who in this case is lying next to the bike and the helmet – see the boot right. This crash happened at the intersection of Imperial Highway and San Pedro Street, a well-known black spot in the area. Speeding through intersections during rush hour is especially dangerous for motorcyclists because we are less likely to be seen under the peripheral vision of other motorists.
Let’s dive into a few facts…
While motorcycle accidents that lead to injuries are pretty common, several studies have been undertaken by NHTSA to determine when most of the crashes occur:
Table 1: Motorcyclists Killed, by Time of Day and Day of Week, 2021
Time of the Day
|Day of the Week|
|Deaths||Percent (%)||Deaths||Percent (%)||Deaths||Percent (%)|
Source: FARS 2021 Final File
After analyzing the data (Table 1), it is evident that 22.6% (the highest percentage) of all deadly motorcycle accidents happen in the evening, between 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. The second most common time is from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. when 21.6% of fatal crashes happen, followed by 9 p.m. to midnight when 15.7% occur. The period when the lowest number of fatal motorcycle crashes occur is 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. when only 3.5% happen.
Taking both weekday and weekend accident statistics into account, the period of the day that has the most fatal accidents is 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends. The time slot with the least fatal crashes is from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays.
Deadly motorcycle crashes occur about as frequently on weekdays as on weekends. Roughly half the deadly motorcycle crashes happen on weekdays and the other half on weekends. In reference to the NHTSA report, at least 2,578 riders perished in motorcycle accidents on weekdays and at least 2,397 on weekends in 2021.
However, since weekday hours are more than double the weekend hours, fatal motorcycle accidents occur 1.7 times more per hour on weekends compared to weekdays.
The Takeaway: The deadly 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. period is the riskiest time of the day to ride a motorcycle while the least risky period to ride is 3 a.m. to 9 a.m. any day. Simply put, the safest time to ride a motorcycle is from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m. on weekdays (Monday to Friday) and between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. on weekends (Saturday and Sunday).
So, what drives this deadly time crunch?
Factors Contributing to the Higher Risk of Motorcycle Crashes During Rush Hour and At Night
Knowing the time of day most motorcycle accidents happen is not enough to keep yourself safe. It’s vital that you also understand the factors leading to this grouping of crashes. Indeed, this anomaly is occasioned by a combination of factors such as:
- Increased traffic count
- Poor riding conditions
- Impaired driving/riding
- Reduced visibility
- Driver/rider fatigue
- Distractions while on the road
Increased Traffic Count
I’m filtering through traffic at a standstill on Dong Khoi Street, Ho Chi Mihn city. Lane filtering is permissible in some jurisdictions provided the speed of the other vehicles in traffic does not exceed a certain preset limit. It is different from lane splitting, which can be incredibly dangerous during rush hours when cars are likely to change lanes abruptly without allowing time for you to see the signal.
Many people use the road to get home from work between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. This period is one of the day’s busiest times for traffic count on most public highways. More traffic means an increased risk of motorcycle accidents. More traffic on the road often translates into bad decision-making, aggressiveness, frustrations, and other dangerous behaviors among road users, increasing the risk of motorcycle crashes.
By changing your commute times, you can lessen your exposure to the increased risk of motorcycle crashes during rush hour traffic.
Poor Riding Conditions
Motorcycling on a section of the 94th in Chicago near Waukegan on your way to Milwaukee along the shores of Lake Michigan at sunset. The area sees the dense advection fog, which forms when warm moist winds blowing over cold lake waters cool to form a saturated air mass. Lake breezes now transport the foggy air ashore, resulting in early mornings or late evenings like this when visibility is poor. In the evenings, the problem is compounded by the setting sun with weaker rays and refraction in the atmosphere with dust and debris kicked up by vehicles. Glare from oncoming traffic does not help the situation.
Riding conditions can quickly deteriorate during rush hour traffic due to the sun setting and the atmosphere cooling. Fog from the ocean usually rolls in, and rain or snow is likely to fall during this time window. The precipitation often makes the asphalt lose its “grippiness,” increasing the likelihood of accidents. If riders are not ready to respond to the changes in road conditions accordingly, they can easily lose control of their bikes, leading to an accident.
Evidently, a large percentage of fatal motorcycle crashes occur when the weather is clear/cloudy. Only a small number of deadly crashes happen in the rain and other conditions:
A pie chart showing the proportion of fatal motorcycle accidents by ambient weather condition: The bulk (97%) of deadly bike crashes happen on a cloudy or clear ride while only two out of every hundred (2%) accidents are due to rainy weather. Other poor weather conditions, like sleet, fog, snow, and ice, share the remaining one percent.
What’s more, most motorcycle crashes take place in June, July, and August during summertime. The NHTSA reports that the number of insurance claims was 78% higher in June compared to the average for all months in 2021. Summer Saturdays are the most dangerous days.
But rush hour traffic and riding conditions aren’t the only risk factors — unfortunately, the impaired drivers on the road increase in number from 3 p.m. to midnight. In general, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs increases the likelihood of accidents.
Table 2: Motorcycle Fatal Crashes By Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC), 2011-2020 (1)
|Total Fatal Crashes||BAC 0.01 or Higher||BAC 0.08 or Higher|
Source: FARS 2021 Final File
In the United States, the legal limit for blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.08% for persons above 21 years. So, a BAC of 0.08% will land you in trouble in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. For under-twenty-ones, it is a policy of zero tolerance across the board. As little as 0.01%, BAC can impair a person’s ability to drive, regardless of age and experience.
Table 2 shows that DUI significantly increases the risk and severity of a crash. Evidently, more drunk drivers get on the road during rush hours. In 2020, for example, about 40% of alcohol-impaired fatal crashes happened between 3 p.m. and midnight compared to 12% that occurred between midday and 3 p.m. These numbers only decline again affect midnight when we expect traffic to have dwindled.
In 2016, the number of motorcyclists killed with BAC = 0.08+ on weekends was 699 and 554 on weekdays (31% and 21%, respectively).
Besides increasing the risk of accidents, an arrest leading to a conviction for DUI or DWI attracts civil penalties such as loss of driving privileges, fines, and increased insurance rates. Not to mention the personal, social, and occupational impacts.
It is always recommended not to drink and ride. If you cannot completely avoid rush hours, you have to keep your wits about you at all times to avoid getting into a pileup.
A pie chart showing the proportions of motorcycle road casualties according to the time of day (lighting condition) when accidents happen: Close to three fifths (59%) of accidents occur during the day as compared to 36% in the dark of night. Dusk is four times more dangerous to ride (4%) than dawn when only 1% of crashes take place.
Although low light conditions, such as night, dusk, and dawn, reduce visibility, distracted driving, fatigue, and the sheer numbers of road users in day time increases the odds of being in an accident. This is despite visibility being at its best for all shades of motorcycle and car colors.
The time window when the second highest number of motorcycle crashes also coincides with the onset of darkness (dark and dusk), a whopping 40%. As the sun sets, visibility decreases, contributing to more accidents.
In comparison, dusk and dawn (low light conditions) are responsible for only 5% of the total crashes that happen in peak-hour traffic. Four times more accidents happen at dusk than at dawn. This might be attributed to driver fatigue and headlight glare in evening rush hour traffic when drivers’ eyes are yet to adjust to low lighting.
On the other hand, night time crashes are less likely than say during the day but significantly more than in the mornings and evenings. It is to see why less crashes occur at night than during the day due to reduced road users even at rush hour. What is not easily evident is that even dull colors are more vivid in the dark compared to lowlight conditions (dusk and dawn).
How to Ride a Motorcycle Safely in Low Light and Rush Hour Traffic
Bright, proper, and complete gear to increase your visibility and make your ride more comfortable. It can also help you in case of an accident. For instance, a certified full-face helmet is effective in reducing head injuries to riders who crash by 72 percent. The fatality rate is 44 percent lower than for motorcyclists without a helmet. All The Gear, All The Time (ATGATT). It’s that simple!
We retaliate, there are ways to lessen the chances that something bad will happen on the motorway regardless of how reckless other motorists can be in your city. Further, statistics show that a sizable portion of motorcycle crashes happen when riders lose control and hit fixtures. There must be something we are not doing right, let’s rectify as follows.
- Say no to drunk driving or operating vehicles under any kind of impairment
- Do not tailgate other vehicles
- Adequately service your bike so it runs smoothly
- Do not lane-split or weave through highway traffic (lane filtering is different and allowed in some cities)
- Install auxiliary lights reflective strips and wear reflective gear to remain visible in rainy weather and low light conditions
- Use proper motorcycle signaling and warnings where applicable to make your intentions known to other road users
- Do not ride when extremely tired or stressed.
You should be vigilant on the roads carefully studying the behavior and intentions of all motorists in your vicinity. Distracted driving is a notorious cause of grizzly accidents and a lead cause of death on all public roads. Help other drivers to concentrate and be safe by signaling, positioning yourself well on the road, and even flashing headlights and honking when push comes to shove. A motorcycle horn can sound like someone stepped on a chicken too but that’s a story for another episode.
Final Thoughts on the Safest Time to Ride a Motorcycle
While accidents can happen at any time, certain road and rider conditions make it even more perilous than it already is. As pertains to the best time to ride a motorcycle it is hard to say with any amount of precision because traffic during rush hour is peculiar to every place. When riding for fun, you have the flexibility to wait or postpone until the weather, lighting, other traffic, and yourself are perfect for some twisties in the mountains. So, if you can, avoid rush hour traffic on a motorcycle. Else, ride slower and constantly be on the lookout for texting and driving maniacal motorists!